Charles’ Immersive Experience in Poland

Posted on the 20th October 2020

Charles wrote to Lattitude to share his experience in Poland with us. He travelled to Poland from New Zealand, arrived in Warsaw in February 2020, and stayed on when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Charles has made himself at home with his Polish host families, has explored much of Poland, and is quite adept at the language. Read on to learn more about his experience here!

My placement first began when I arrived in Warsaw on the 16th of February. It was very cold then (high of 2 degrees and low of -4 degrees), during the last month of winter. It took some time to get used to the frigid temperatures. During the first week of our stay was orientation and all us volunteers completed an English teaching course.  We went through some basics of creating lesson plans and keeping the students occupied and interested. After this first week, the volunteers were sent to various schools throughout Poland to teach.

During my time in Poland I have been to two placements at two different schools both in Warsaw. My first was a small primary school in a rural suburb of Warsaw, called Łomianki, whereas other volunteers were sent to schools on the other side of the country, in Krakow or Gdańsk.

When COVID-19 first arrived in Poland, everyone was very afraid of the virus getting out of control. Within the first month of my school attachment the school was closed down, with lessons taking place online. However, after a month or so of this, I started to realise the drawbacks of having online lessons, such as internet problems and having limited options of different activities that were feasible for lesson ideas. It was also difficult making sure students were present and focused on the lesson due to them being able to turn off their cameras and ignore the lesson. Definitely, lessons were much more challenging during quarantine. My second placement was at Klementyna Hoffmanowa High School and I started there after the summer break. Hoffmanowa is the largest high school in Warsaw and one of the oldest as well with kids ranging from ages 14 to 19.

When the quarantine first hit Poland, it was a pretty scary time for everyone, and other volunteers opted to go home as soon as the next flight was available. However, I had just settled in with my new host family, so I was reluctant to leave after only one or two months in Poland. The Polish language also caught my attention due to it being known as such a difficult language, as well as listening to people speak during my regular routine. I quickly grew in my curiosity for the language, in enjoying asking questions about what certain words meant, and improving my pronunciation of words (trzydzieści was especially difficult for me). Although the situation with COVID was quite uncertain, I did not want to waste this opportunity to experience the new culture and language that Poland had to offer.  I decided to stay in the country. As of now I think there are only three or four volunteers currently remaining in Poland because the new September volunteers were not able to travel to Poland.

Travel outside of Poland during the school summer holidays was a little risky due to the borders within Europe being unpredictable. It was possible that they would close after you had left the country, making it near impossible to get back. I did however manage to do lots of travel inside Poland and also to Crete during the summer holidays. Travel during the pandemic was interesting, however.

Zygmund, my host cat


Currently I am staying with my third host family and I will possibly move to a fourth family for the last few months of the year. All my host families have been really welcoming and made me feel like one of the family. The level of English that the kids speak is really amazing too, and even the parents try their best to try and speak with me. Being from New Zealand, I’m really excited to spend my first Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere with my Polish host family.

Lattitude has provided an excellent ladder of support for me and other volunteers to help with any issues we might have had.  I talk with my parents in New Zealand usually weekly and talk with my friends at home perhaps monthly through messenger.

My role as a volunteer hasn’t changed much during my time in Poland but I think now I definitely feel much more comfortable teaching and presenting in front of classes and audiences. I’ve also started teaching private lessons with students outside of school times which is great to be gaining additional experience. COVID in Poland has not really changed much about living and teaching in Poland apart from having to follow some precautions such as remembering to disinfect your hands and wear masks, and abide by certain rules from the government and the school regarding where you should be wearing your mask.

For my gap year in Poland, I mostly came to experience something new, learn something and gain new life skills. Even though COVID had an affect on the experience it did not prevent me from doing these things. I just had to keep an open mind and the problems of COVID were usually pretty easy to navigate around. Now after spending 8 months in Warsaw I’m also comfortable travelling around Warsaw and can speak and understand the language well enough to manage most situations.

In terms of wisdom gained from this experience, I’ve learnt that no matter how much you think you know about something, there is always something interesting and new to learn about it. I realised that keeping your mind open and trying something new and interesting is so important for your own personal growth.

Learn more about our Poland programme

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